Even If People Suck, Have Empathy

I know people can be annoying. But practicing empathy is still the right thing to do – for them, and for yourself

Sometimes, admittedly, I get annoyed by people and how they behave.

Why do people lack empathy? Why do they ask things like “why don’t you have kids?” or point out physical flaws in others?
Why do Chinese tourists travel in buses and go to the same few spots in Europe to take the same pictures without getting to know the real culture?
Why don’t politicians do a good job, for once?

I could list a million other things.

But, if you look at people and their behavior with empathy and love, you will start to understand why they behave like they do.
Next time you get annoyed by others, I challenge you to try to put yourself in their shoes and try to understand them, at least a bit.

Most people who ask inconsiderate questions might genuinely struggle with empathy. They’re often stuck in their ways and what their parents and society told them is the “right way to live” without the mental capacity to break free from their bubble.
Chinese tourists are often only allowed to travel by bus, they’re probably overworked and scared to piss off their government, so they default to what society deems acceptable. It’s nice that they do travel a lot and try to get to know other countries, I think.
And why is alcohol abused so often? Well, because everybody is stressed and overworked, and alcohol is one of the few legal and effective ways to wind down and get some “happy chemicals” in our brains.

You might be surprised by how good this empathy exercise feels, as opposed to hate and cynicism. Don’t be a snob, don’t think you’re better because you don’t like Marvel movies and going to the beach for holidays. 
The Buddhists do something similar with loving kindness meditations, where they bring their awareness to loved ones, then to everybody in the world, to wish them a happy, peaceful life without suffering.

I’m not saying every behavior needs to be tolerated – especially if it’s objectively bad stuff like littering or willfully hurting others.

But for most other things, “live and let live” should be applied. Actually, people behave quite predictably. They act on incentives and their programming (yes, I don’t really believe in free will). I rarely quote Jesus, but it’s best if we “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

I emphasize this because I feel that we move in the opposite direction: Away from empathy, towards shaming and partizanship. I underestimated how much people love to gang up on others. Social media is the perfect tool for that. Don’t lose your empathy, don’t forget that we humans are all in the same boat, we’re all confused and imperfect and we all struggle in one way or another. 

By the way: I shared more thoughts on this topic on my ASMR bedtime show I recorded while hiking in Slovenia. Check out my free weekly newsletter if you want to get more of these ideas as well as weekly ASMR recommendations and other picks to help you find calm.